Today, The Masters Review is thrilled to share Xuan Juliana Wang’s “For Our Children and For Ourselves” from her collection HOME REMEDIES, published in 2019. “For Our Children and For Ourselves” is about the choices and sacrifices we make in search of better lives. Are they always worth it? Next week, Brandon Williams will be breaking down this story in our Stories that Teach section! Stay tuned. But for now, enjoy.
Whether he believed it or not, about six months ago, Xiao Gang had tumbled helplessly into the grasp of yuan fen. The term yuan means the fateful meeting of two people, with the possibility—the shared hope—of becoming love. Fen was the responsibility of fulfilling that unspoken promise. Yuan and fen make love stories possible.
In a blue sky smeared with white clouds, his mother’s pigeons whirled above his head in enormous sweeps. This household chore was one he never grew tired of. He tended daily to the birds, encouraged them, and as they dove their wings took on every shade of gray. These were kites people could never dream of, he thought, and as they weaved in and out between those old porcelain roof tiles and plum trees, they drew invisible watercolors and characters without names.
With a loud thud, Xiao Gang slapped the long branch he was waving against the tree trunk. The pigeons continued to fly on their own. A few plums fell to the ground, and boys from the neighborhood scrambled to pick them up. “Mine! Mine!” they shouted.
When they were too tired to fly, the pigeons one by one settled back into their hutches, puffed out their feathers, and cooed gently in unison, like heartbeats slowing down to slumber. A child from the city might ask why none of them ever flew away into the inviting mountains and trees in the distance. But this was the Henan countryside, where that would be a stupid question.
* * *
On this particular night, Xiao Gang was looking to get very, very drunk. He wanted to be carried home singing. As the occasion was his bachelor party, all of his buddies—booze in hand, undershirts already stained from spills—were ready to fulfill his wish.
After the fish was picked to bones, Liang stood up unsteadily and raised his brimming glass of baijiu to give a toast. “To your journey, brother!” Cheers were grunted, lips smacked, and cigarettes lit.
“Ever since we were this tall”—Liang gestured with his fat hands at his hips—“we’ve been best friends, and maybe not by blood but I always saw you as my brother. And if I can’t speak to you from the gut, then who can, huh?”
Xiao Gang looked at him, smiled sloppily, and filled his own cup.
“To this lucky bastard, he’s going to get rich in America!”
Surrounded by his closest friends, Xiao Gang cheered with them.
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From the book HOME REMEDIES by Xuan Juliana Wang. Copyright © 2019 by Xuan Wang Inc. Published by Hogarth, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Hogarth.